Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) grilled General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday over the Biden administration’s disastrous pullout from Afghanistan.
Gaetz opened up his five minutes of questions by highlighting a previous remark that Milley gave to the Committee last year, and asked him, “You really blew that call, didn’t you, General?”
“You spent more time with Bob Woodward on this book than you spent analyzing the very likely prospect that the Afghanistan government was going to fall immediately to the Taliban, didn’t you?” Gaetz asked Milley as he held up a copy of “Peril.”
“Not even close, Congressman,” Milley responded.
“Oh, really? Because you said right after Kabul fell that no one could have anticipated the immediate fall of the Ghani government,” Gaetz responded. “When did you become aware that Joe Biden tried to get Ghani to lie about the conditions in Afghanistan? He did that in July. Did you know that right away?”
“I’m not aware of what President Biden, lying,” Milley said as he appeared to struggle answering the question.
Gaetz later pressed Austin over the failures he has experienced in his military career and accused Milley of violating the chain of command over a phone call that he had with his Chinese counterpart.
“If we didn’t have a president that was so addled, you all would be fired because that is what you deserve,” Gaetz said. “You have let down the people who wear the uniform in my district and all around this country. And you’re far more interested in what your perception is and how people think about you and insider Washington books than you care about winning which this group seems incapable of doing.”
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): February 26, 2020, House Armed Services Committee, General Mark Milley, “We know we’re not going to defeat the Taliban militarily, and they’re not going to defeat the government of Afghanistan militarily.” You really blew that call, didn’t you, General?
GENERAL MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I believe that that was an issue, a strategic stalemate, and that if we had remained in Afghanistan with the advisory levels of effort than the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan Security Forces–
GAETZ: Well, that’s an interesting answer to a question. It’s just not one I asked. You spent more time with Bob Woodward on this book than you spent analyzing the very likely prospect that the Afghanistan government was going to fall immediately to the Taliban. Didn’t you?
MILLEY: Not even close, Congressman.
GAETZ: Oh really? Because you said right after Kabul fell that no one could have anticipated the immediate fall of the Ghani government. When did you become aware that Joe Biden tried to get Ghani to lie about the conditions in Afghanistan? He did that in July. Did you know that right away?
MILLEY: I’m not aware of what President Biden, lying …
GAETZ: You’re not aware of the phone call that Biden had with Ghani where he said, “Whether it is true or not, we want you to go out there and paint a rosy picture of what’s going on in Afghanistan.” You’re the chief military advisor to the president. You said that the Taliban was not going to defeat the government of Afghanistan militarily, which by the way they cut through them like a hot knife through butter. And then the president tries to get Ghani to lie. When did you become aware of that attempt?
MILLEY: Well there’s two things there, Congressman, if I may. One is what I said was the situation was stalemate. And if we kept advisers with there, the government of Afghanistan and the army would have still been there. That’s what I said. Whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t know. But …
GAETZ: It seems wrong now …
MILLEY: Well, we withdrew all the ….
GAETZ: Question for Secretary Austin. Secretary Austin, are you capable of assessing whether another has the will to fight?
LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: No, we’re not. And that’s the point that the Chairman made earlier.
GAETZ: That’s just like an incredibly disappointing thing for the Secretary of Defense to simply say, I can’t assess whether someone has the will to fight, but it is consistent with your record. I mean, during the Obama Administration, I think they gave you about $48 million to go train up some folks in Syria to go take on the Assad government, and I think your testimony was that only four or five survived first contact with the enemy. So what confidence should this committee have in you or should the country have in you when you’ve now confessed to us, and whether it’s the swing and a miss in Afghanistan that General Milley talked to the Senate about yesterday, total failure, or whether it was your failures in Syria? You don’t seem capable to look at a fighting force and determine whether or not they have the will. Is that an embarrassing thing?
AUSTIN: You recall, Congressman, that the end result was the SDF that we stood up that was very, very instrumental in turning the tide of a battle up in Syria.
GAETZ: Oh yeah, turned it so much. You’ve got Assad in power in Syria. You’ve got the Taliban in power in Afghanistan. I mean, where have you been?
AUSTIN: The focus was ISIS, Congressman, and those forces had significant effect on the ISIS network.
GAETZ: It just seems like you’re chronically bad at this. And you have admitted that, I guess, which is to your credit. But when people in the military like Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller stand up and demand accountability, when they say that you all screwed up, when they point out that General Milley’s statement that the government of Afghanistan is not going to get defeated by the Taliban. Well, he ends up in the brig and you all end up in front of us and your former employer Raytheon ends up with a lot of money and we have poured cash and blood and credibility into a Ghani government that was a mirage.
It fell immediately. And while the guy sitting next to you was off talking to Phil Rucker and was off doing his thing with Bob Woodward, we were buying into the big lie, the big lie that this was ever going to be successful, and that we could ever rely on the Afghanistan government for anything at all. General Milley, you kind of gave up the game earlier when you said you wanted to address elements of your personal conduct that were in question. We’re not questioning your personal conduct. We’re questioning in your official capacity going and undermining the chain of command, which is obviously what you did. You’ve created this whole chain of communication narrative.
MILLEY: I did not undermine the chain of command in any manner that they performed, Congressman.
GAETZ: Yeah, you did. You absolutely did. And it …
MILLEY: Did not.
GAETZ: Well, you know what, you said yesterday that you weren’t going to resign when senators asked you this question, and I believe that you guys probably won’t resign. You seem to be very happy failing up over there. But if we didn’t have a president that was so addled, you all would be fired because that is what you deserve. You have let down the people who wear the uniform in my district and all around this country. And you’re far more interested in what your perception is and how people think about you and insider Washington books than you care about winning which this group seems incapable of doing.